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We again are publishing an article written to partially satisfy a Master Instructor requirement.  This submission is from Sergeant Leo George and deals with Hybrid Gangs.  It has been edited for length but not content so as to fit our Journal format.   

We will now be posting articles for a shorter period of time than in the past since we are now receiving many more submissions and have actually accumulated a backlog (a nice problem to have).  We would like to give a big thank you to those who have submitted articles.  If you would like to submit an article, please just forward a copy to me in “Word.”  -ML

Hybrid Gangs and Their Hidden Threat to Law Enforcement

By: Sergeant Leo George

Introduction

Gang members and violence have long been considered synonymous in the law enforcement community. As crime and violence in communities has increased, society has experienced a proliferation of criminal gangs of various forms (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Annual Report, 2001). Among these, are what some refer to as hybrid gangs (Starbuck, Howell, Lindquist, 2001). 

Historical Review

If one accepts the basic premises that a gang is a group of individuals, acting together and engaging in antisocial and criminal behavior, then the term gang and other names commonly associated with these entities can be found throughout history and are not a new development to civilization.

Since the establishment of the United States, gangs have taken several forms. As seen during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s, mass immigration to the United States resulted in a move from an agrarian society to an urban society. Gang entities such as the Car Barn Gang, Dead Rabbits, and other commonly known groups developed. In the Post-Civil War era, these entities evolved and new criminal gangs developed including the outlaw gangs of the old west. Secondary effects from prohibition and the Great Depression resulted in the development of numerous gangs, including: the Dillinger Gang, the Barker Gang, Al Capone’s Chicago Syndicate and many others.

History further shows the 1930’s and 1940’s were also a period of development and expansion for Hispanic Gangs in the western United States. The development and evolution of Hispanic gangs in the United States can be traced back through history to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, in which the U.S. assumed control over a large portion of what had previously been Mexican land.

The Post World War II era saw the development of outlaw motorcycle gangs, the development of organized contemporary street gangs and the formation of gang alliances. The advent of social media and the internet in the 1990’s, began a change in gang entities enhancing their ability to communicate and recruit. In 2001, the Department of Justice first acknowledged and reported the existence and threats from hybrid gangs. 

Literary Research

Contemporary research into crime and street gangs can be traced back to 1927 with the work of Thrasher [Thrasher, Fredrick, The Gang A Study of 1313 Gangs in Chicago, 1927].  Since that time, these entities have continued to adjust, evolve and migrate according to changes in society and a variety of environmental variables. With this evolution came an increase in the threats from these entities.  These threats are indicated in various reports by the federal government and in gang research conducted by members of academia.  Dr. George Knox, Ph.D. posits that “recurrent criminal activity” is an essential component in defining a gang (Knox, 1991).

Due to the increased threat from criminal gangs in 2005, the United States Congress established the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). The NGIC is a strategic center designed to gather, access and provide intelligence to law enforcement and other criminal justice entities.

A 2011 assessment produced by the NGIC and the FBI indicated gangs were “expanding and evolving.” Additionally, these gangs were found to be more violent and were described as an increasing threat to U.S. communities. The assessment further indicated, gangs were responsible for a large portion of violent criminal activity.  Reported in the Assessment’s Key Findings was “Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90% in several others” (Nation Gang Intelligence Center, 2011, pg. 9).

One of the major problems concerning law enforcement is the lack of awareness in recognizing gang entities and members, especially when this involves hybrid gangs. This lack of awareness is not new and not restricted to members of law enforcement.

In The American Street Gang, Klein indicates the definitions of gangs are affected by how they are defined by separate jurisdictions. This also affects determining and defining a gang related crime.  Until the 1960’s, gangs were traditionally referred to as “juvenile gangs or delinquent gangs” (Klein, 1995). Both of these referred to the assumption that street gangs and youth were synonymous. It appears much of the reason for equating gangs as being youth groups was the result of the accepted stereotype of gangs, which was the accepted norm in academia from the 1920’s to the 1970’s.

The paradigm concerning the equation of street gangs and youth changed when in 1991 George Knox wrote An Introduction to Gangs.  Knox presented a different academic definition of gangs which posits, any group of individuals whose members engage in recurrent criminal activities constitutes a gang. As stated by Knox, “The most essential feature of the criminal gang is that its members routinely engage in law violating behavior. This is done individually, in small groups and often in an organized continuing fashion” (Knox, 1994, pg. 1).

Knox further advises, however, one should use caution in this definition and indicated not to equate all groups of individuals who may have some members who engage in criminal behavior and activities as meeting the definition of a gang. Specifically, Knox advises there are other essential elements to consider before a group should be considered a gang. Among these, is the group designed with the primary purpose of obtaining rewards generated from on-going criminal activity?  Furthermore, do members of the group have knowledge about the gang’s illegal activities?

In 2007, The National District Attorney’s Association (NDAA), American Prosecutor’s Research Institute with grant funding from the Department of Justice, prepared a report entitled “Prosecutor’s Comprehensive Gang Response Model.”  Among the findings in the report was the difficulty in being able to identify gang members.

Knowing what a gang is means breaking down the misconceptions and stereotypes about gangs and then defining what a gang is." Despite popular belief, gangs are not necessarily:

• Highly organized criminal syndicates,

• Racially or ethnically homogenous,

• Just a large city or urban phenomenon,

• Male dominated,

• Organized only around the drug trade, or

• Dressed in “colors” or marked with certain types of tattoos.” (NDAA Report, Pg. 5, 2007).

The Problem and Its Setting

The amount of training new law enforcement officers are exposed to varies greatly among jurisdictions and agencies. The Indiana Law Enforcement Academy requires basic recruits to complete six hours of gang and security threat training. New recruits with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department attend two hours of street gang training during the course of their program. Recruits attending the Quantico academy have between two to four [hours].

As reported by IMPD, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, none of these agencies currently requires updated gang and security threat training as part of annual in-service training.

Traditionally, members of law enforcement have been trained to use “totems” or identifiers and behaviors in order to identify members of gangs. These totems include various symbols, colors, clothing, body art, jewelry, graffiti and various forms of verbal and non-verbal behavior.  However, with the development of hybrid gangs, these identifiers have become increasingly vague and harder to recognize.

Hybrid Gangs

The term hybrid gangs can be traced back to the original works of Thrasher in 1927.  During this period, hybrid gangs were defined as gangs being non-segregated racially and ethnically mixed. However, in 2001 the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, identified hybrid gangs as a culture. This culture “is characterized by members of different racial/ethnic groups participating in a single gang, individuals  participating in multiple gangs, unclear rules or codes of conduct, symbolic association with more than one well established gang” (U.S Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 2001).

Hybrid gangs are thriving in contemporary times. Due to this, their altering characteristics and non-adherence to the status quo makes them more complicated and complex to investigate (U.S Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 2001).   

Specific Threats of Hybrid Gangs

In her 2008 thesis titled, Hybrid Gangs and the Hyphy Movement, Crossing the Color Line, Wood contends that the development of movement changed the “structure” of various gangs and “how gangs in Sacramento represented themselves.” The Hyphy movement developed out of the Bay Area hip hop movement and has changed the culture of area gangs. Among other reported changes are a reported increase in violent acts and firearms.

In 2004, an investigation in Indianapolis, Indiana, was initiated into a local hybrid gang located on the near Southside of Indianapolis. The investigation originated after members of the gang, including their 30 year old leader, made threats to kill a former member of the gang and his family. The gang was known as 21-F.A.T.A.L, an acronym for Faith Among the Almighty Legion. The gang was developed in the late 1990’s, with the gang’s modus operandi including arson and fire bombings of individuals they believe were a threat to the area in which many of them lived. Specifically, among those they believed to [be] a threat were racial and ethnic minorities who were moving into the predominately working class white neighborhood.

Among the unique hybrid concepts practiced by the gang was their detailed use of numerous symbols and colors commonly associated with members of Vice Lords also known as “the People Nation.” However, the gang consisted of all white members who followed white supremacy ideology.

During the course of the investigation, investigators contacted uniform officers and district detectives familiar with the group in an effort to obtain intelligence. During multiple conversations, it became apparent that law enforcement officers working the area referred to the group as “wanna be’s” and failed to recognize the group as a gang and were complacent regarding the gangs potential threat.

The investigation resulted in the service of multiple search and arrest warrants and the recovery of several items of evidence. Among these items were documents directly related to officer safety. Specifically of concern was the recovery of various military type operation orders or plans. These plans were similar to tactical action plans commonly used by law enforcement. These plans included: the type of operation, personnel assignments including the use of counter surveillance, contingency plans and various threat factors with detailed drawings and floor plans.

As reported in a May 16, 2014 report from WRTV 6, a CBS affiliate in Charlottesville, Virginia, on January 31, 2014, four members of a Virginia gang called the 99 Goon Syndicate kidnapped and killed Captain Kevin Quick, a reserve officer with Waynesboro, Virginia.  The report cited a 39 page federal indictment in which a total of nine (9) members of the gang were indicted. The article further indicated the carjacking, kidnapping and murder of Captain Quick was done by the four main suspects in an attempt to gain entrance and receive positions in the gang. 99 Goon Syndicate was described as a local start-up gang with suspected ties to the nationally recognized Blood’s Gang.  

Conclusion

As seen throughout the history of gang evolution in the United States, gangs have constantly evolved and adapted. Unfortunately, law enforcement, other members of the criminal justice system and members of academia have been complacent in their evolution and understanding of these criminal entities. They in fact have been stuck in a paradigm paralysis. In order for all, especially those in law enforcement, to be vigilant, they must be properly educated and maintain situational awareness regarding the potential dangers of these groups and their members. Thus updated training and intelligence regarding gangs, especially hybrid gangs, should be included in law enforcement training and annual in-service training.

[As always, anyone interested in submitting an article to the Journal is invited to do so by emailing: mlindsay@ilea.in.gov with a copy of the article attached to the email.] 

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